One of the great axioms embedded in all the Bible is that what’s most important about our actions, the verbs of our lives, is the object. That is the most important detail – actually the most important detail of our lives. Actions themselves are neutral. Verbs are value-neutral. What makes them good or bad, enlightening or deceiving, health-giving or destructive, is who or what is receiving that verb.
For instance, take killing. If you kill your neighbor, that’s really bad. If you kill sin, that’s really good. The same goes for hatred – towards your neighbor, not good; towards sin, really good.
Take again gossip: about your neighbor, not good. About God, and His deeds; if the works of Jesus just “fall out” of your mouth, wherever you go – that’s really good.
Take lust, which is the English word that is used, based on context, for a more neutral original word meaning “to strongly, passionately desire”. If you strongly desire someone not your spouse, that’s bad. But if you strongly, passionately desire the glory of God, that’s good.
Take faith. If you have faith in a politician, or nine people in black robes in a courtroom in Washington, or in the media, or in an athlete, or in the purity of baseball, or, or . . . that fails. But faith in God . . . that does not.
Take love. If we love God, that’s good. But if we love sin, that’s bad. Even love itself is only a neutral concept.
More than this, if the ultimate object of our love is God, our love will be beautiful, and constructive, and right to everyone else. But if we love anything else in the world as an ultimate object, as an end in itself – something that we would be satisfied if we had it alone and nothing else – then our love for everyone and everything else will turn bad. For instance, we can become bitter or manipulative, if the object of our love does not reciprocate, or cooperate. Love that lands below God becomes destructive and ugly.
This all has profound implications for personal change. To change our behavior, i.e., our real-life verbs, it is crucial that we focus more than anything else on the object, rather than on the verb (the action itself). If our love is centered on, and focused on God, if our target is to passionately desire the glory of God, we will find ourselves with changed behavior, because we humans do what we love. We are and become, what we love.